Thursday, September 29, 2011

Running the Middle Fork of the Salmon River

Middle Fork of the Salmon River © Neil Ever Osborne

The following post is from professional endurance athlete, Luke Nelson. This Friday, Nelson, along with Ty Draney, will begin a multi-marathon run through the Frank Church Wilderness - over 120 miles in less than two days. Learn more about their epic journey.

Follow their run LIVE on Friday and Saturday, via SPOT messenger here.
Luke Nelson will be tweeting updates:

Luke Nelson
A few summers ago I was fortunate enough to be able to spend the entire summer working as a whitewater guide on the Middle Fork of the Salmon.  It was not my first time on the river, as the Middle Fork had been my first wilderness multi-day river trip just prior to my 18th birthday.  When the opportunity to spend an entire summer on the Middle Fork came about I took it without hesitation. One visit to the Middle Fork left me yearning to return to it’s awe-inspiring clutches. 

There are very few places on this planet that can compare to the wildness of the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness Area, through which the Middle Fork of the Salmon River flows.  The natural and pristine immaculately preserved, throughout most of the river there is hardly noticeable traces of mankind's heavy hand.  Without fail, at the end of our six day trips down the river our guests would express their experience with phrases like “trip of a lifetime” or “time of my life”.  I would thank them with a smile, knowing inside that it was my life and I would be able to repeat the voyage in just over a day’s time.  When I finished work for that summer I teared up as I drove home knowing I wouldn’t be back for a season.  I knew I would still be able to go back, at some point.  Humans are not the only frequent visitors to the Middle Fork as it serves as the return route for salmon.  It’s headwaters are spawning grounds that are thousands of years old.  Yet, unlike myself there are many things that threaten the ability of Wild Salmon to return to the Middle Fork, including many hydroelectric projects on the Lower Snake River, into which the Middle Fork eventually flows. 

For a couple of years now I have tried, unsuccessfully, to win the lottery for a permit to float the Middle Fork of the Salmon.  It has been quite depressing every year to be turned down, knowing that my return to paradise is delayed.  Wild Salmon are in the same situation, trying to return, but inhibited by obstacles outside of their control.  During a run with a friend a little over a year ago an idea was hatched, to “run” the Middle Fork.   Not to run it in a 15-foot raft but to run the trail that follows the river for over seventy miles.  After a year a planning and logistics the stars have aligned for Ty Draney and I to “run” the Middle Fork.  There have been obstacles along the way but we will not be deterred, in the same way we hope to draw more awareness to the issues facing wild salmon so that they to may “run” freely in the Middle Fork and it’s headwaters once again.

Luke Nelson is a member of the US Ski Mountaineering Team, representing the team in February at the World Ski Mountaineering Championships in Italy. Nelson holds several records, including fastest ascent and the fastest car to car on Mount Borah, the highest peak in Idaho.  He is sponsored by La Sportiva, UltrAspire, First Endurance, and Nuun.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Pres. Obama Greeted in Seattle by a 25-foot Salmon

Last Sunday, September 25th, President Obama visited Washington State on a very brief fundraising trip lasting mere hours that included stops at a private home in Medina and the Paramount Theater in Seattle. Because Presidential visits are rare occurrences in Seattle (his last visit was in 2009), we thought we would use the occasion to send President Obama a special message regarding salmon and jobs in the Northwest.

Last week’s Elwha river restoration festivities highlighted just one of the opportunities we have in the region to collaborate, protect and restore our natural resources in ways that create jobs and economic activity. As the nation’s largest dam removal effort ever, the story of the Elwha reflects positive momentum forward as we look at other restoration efforts, including on the lower Snake River.

Restoring rivers not only saves critical salmon and steelhead, but, done right, can also rebuild and recapture thousands of long-term jobs (and generate billions of dollars in economic activity). As we work to set an example for the nation with the Elwha and other rivers in need of restoration, these issues deserve the President’s attention.

So in an effort to capture President Obama’s attention, we decided to drive around Seattle near the Paramount Theater with our friend “Fin,” a 25-foot metal salmon sculpture on a trailer. She’s eye-catching, for sure.

Save Our wild Salmon Outreach Director Joseph Bogaard maneuvered Fin through the crowd-packed streets of Seattle. Joining him was Jeremy Brown, a salmon fisherman and board member of the Washington Trollers Association to talk about why salmon mean jobs, and why our President should care.

Said Jeremy outside the Paramount, “Restoring the Elwha River demonstrates that when communities work together, we are capable of achieving great things. Recovering Elwha River salmon means more fishing and more food. These are important benefits to local communities, as well as the obvious benefits to local wildlife too."

Added Joseph, “The President really needs to seize this opportunity to push forward on salmon restoration and jobs creation via collaborative, science-driven process now in the Columbia and Snake River Basin."

Image courtesy of Seattle Times

All other images courtesy of Noah Dolan/Save Our wild Salmon

Monday, September 26, 2011

A job creation opportunity for President Obama

The following is a guest blog from Paul Fish, president of Mountain Gear, an outdoor gear retailer based in Spokane, Washington.  Mountain Gear is one of over 1,100 businesses to call for decisive policy change in Columbia and Snake River salmon recovery. 

Please stand with Paul by taking action here. 

President Obama recently addressed the nation to outline a renewed plan for kick-starting an economy in crisis. As one piece of the larger puzzle, I urge the President, his administration, and members of Congress to take a close look at the opportunity to recapture lost jobs and create new ones by following good science and bringing people together to restore healthy, abundant runs of wild salmon and steelhead to the Columbia and Snake Rivers.  I stand ready to work with the administration on a new path forward.

Those of us who live in salmon country understand how healthy salmon populations and good jobs go hand in hand.  Like thousands of other outdoor recreation businesses, Mountain Gear depends on wild backcountry, freely-flowing rivers and healthy fish and wildlife populations for our company’s bottom line. We understand firsthand the direct link between a healthy environment and a strong economy.

Mountain Gear is thankful to be based in Spokane, with its unparalleled backyard of wild lands, scenic mountains, great rivers and wild salmon. The region’s great outdoor recreation opportunities provide a high quality of life that attracts a talented and educated workforce important to our company and the local economy.

One of our greatest treasures is the Snake River and its wild salmon and steelhead. The basin’s many rivers (including the Salmon, Clearwater, Grande Ronde, Wenaha, and the Snake itself) are renowned for their fishing, rafting and hiking. The entire Columbia/Snake River Basin was once the most productive salmon watershed on the planet, with as many as 30 million fish returning to spawn each year.

Unfortunately, the health of this river system and its famed fisheries have been in decline for decades due to poor management and lack of political will.

American taxpayers and Northwest ratepayers have spent more than $10 billion on salmon recovery measures that have failed to protect and restore endangered fisheries in the basin. Declining salmon numbers have hurt regional fishing and outdoor recreation economies throughout the Pacific salmon states of Alaska, California, Oregon, Washington and Idaho.

The future of the Snake River has reached a critical tipping point. Early last month, a federal judge once again ruled the federal government’s proposed salmon plan illegal and inadequate. Science has shown again and again that any viable salmon recovery effort must include the removal of four costly dams on the lower Snake River. (See for example the June 2011 “Resolution of the Western Division of the American Fisheries Society on the Role of Dams and Conservation of Snake River Salmon, Steelhead, Pacific Lamprey, and White Sturgeon”)

For the past eight years, however, federal agencies have attempted to circumvent this scientific consensus by failing to even consider dam removal as a viable option.

Guided by science and good information we can create many new jobs by restoring this magnificent fish, generating new recreational opportunities, investing in rural towns, enhancing the region’s clean energy and transportation infrastructures, and saving taxpayer dollars.

Recovering wild salmon and steelhead will create thousands of jobs and generate billions of dollars – not just for outdoor and sport fishing companies like mine, but also for rural and coastal communities throughout the Northwest and beyond.

It will not happen, however, without leadership. Seizing this opportunity depends on Washington state’s elected leaders, including Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, joining with President Obama to convene a forum driven by science and economics that puts stakeholders on equal footing with the federal agencies.

A Northwest ‘solutions table’ should be one part of a larger plan to get people working again – and solve other pressing problems at the same time. Done right, it can yield a blueprint to restore wild salmon and steelhead runs to vibrant, self-sustaining levels while creating much-needed family-wage jobs, investing in our economy and protecting our outdoor way of life.

Paul Fish is the president of Mountain Gear, an outdoor gear retailer based in Spokane, Washington. Paul Fish is one of more than one hundred companies in the outdoor gear industry – and more than 1,100 businesses overall - that supports an inclusive stakeholder settlement process in order to craft an effective, legal, and science-based salmon restoration plan for the Columbia and Snake Rivers, including a closer look at the removal of the four lower Snake River dams.

Again, please take action here to stand with Paul and the hundreds of other businesses across the country.

Friday, September 23, 2011

What do wild salmon, failed nuclear plants, and Google have in common?

They all play a role in how the hugely complex Federal Columbia River Power System – and the agency that runs it, the Bonneville Power Administration – makes and spends money. 

That was the take-home message from a hearing held yesterday in the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water and Power about a controversial bill, the Endangered Species Compliance and Transparency Act, or HR 1719.  The legislation would require federal power agencies such as Bonneville to estimate and report their direct and indirect costs of complying with the Endangered Species Act (ESA). 

While the bill is veiled in consumer “right-to-know” language, here’s what consumers should really know: this bill isn’t about transparency.  Instead, HR 1719 would only create confusion (and perhaps ill-will toward protecting fish and wildlife) by distorting costs associated with ESA compliance.  

NW Energy Coalition executive director Sara Patton was among the witnesses who testified at yesterday’s hearing, and described HR 1719 as unnecessary (ESA costs are already readily available to utilities and members of the public from both BPA and the Northwest Power and Conservation Council); one-sided (it would only require the reporting of ESA costs, and not the immense benefits associated with fish and wildlife protection); and virtually impossible to implement (BPA is obligated by a myriad of federal laws and treaties to restore fish and wildlife; HR 1719 proposes no way to distinguish which costs are specifically linked to meeting the requirements of the ESA).

But perhaps most alarmingly, H.R. 1719 codifies a kind of “black market” accounting: by including indirect costs like foregone revenue associated with legally-required salmon protection measures (such as spilling water over the dams to help young fish reach the ocean), the bill states that BPA is entitled to money it could have earned had it violated federal law (a highly controversial practice that BPA currently employs). In other words, under H.R. 1719, power administrations would be entitled to claim lost revenue from power that’s illegal to generate in the first place. Plus, the inclusion of foregone revenue in ESA costs creates the very false impression that these costs are far higher than they are in real life.  Salmon have it tough enough already; they don’t need fuzzy math and phantom kilowatts muddying the waters even further.

But enough about what HR 1719 would do…let’s talk for a moment about what it wouldn’t do.  Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee, captured the bill’s shortcomings perfectly when he asked the witnesses whether any of BPA’s other big-ticket items should be spelled out on utilities’ monthly power bills – after all, if we’re trying to inform consumers about their electricity costs, we should make sure all the relevant information is available to them.  As Rep. Markey pointed out, this should include BPA’s payments to retire the massive debt it absorbed when Washington State’s nuclear power system (“WPPSS”) collapsed under its own weight in the 1980s, a sum that clocks in at about $550 million a year, with almost $6 billion in debt still outstanding.  But when asked if BPA’s utility customers should receive this information on their monthly bills, two of the panel’s witnesses (who testified in support of HR 1719, citing the importance of transparency) demurred, saying they weren’t prepared to support the inclusion of any other costs beyond those associated with ESA compliance.  This laser-like focus on ESA costs to the exclusion of all others begs the question: does HR 1719 have an anti-ESA bias?  Just sayin’.

Rep. Markey grappled with this possibility by noting the recent migration of hi-tech companies, such as Google and Facebook, to the Pacific Northwest.  An excellent example is Google’s decision to site its power-thirsty server farm in The Dalles, where it has easy access to some of the most affordable electricity in the United States: BPA-marketed power from the Columbia River dams.  Rep. Markey asked NWEC’s Sara Patton, “Have you heard Google complain about the Endangered Species Act?” to which Ms. Patton replied, “Not once.” Indeed, even with its investments in fish and wildlife protection, BPA provides electricity at rates that are the envy of the nation.  

Here's the video:

Efforts to blame the Endangered Species Act for economic woes (or jacked-up power rates) are as old as the Act itself.  And like most every other instance of species scapegoating, HR 1719 comes no closer to reality.  Salmon restoration is an integral part of BPA’s responsibilities, and a shared goal of all Northwesterners.  Distorting costs and confusing consumers will only get in the way of reaching that goal.  For that reason alone, HR 1719 should get mothballed along with Washington’s old, failed nuclear plants. 

Gilly Lyons is the Senior Policy Analyst for the Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition.   

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Salmon still like water, BPA wind policy flawed

A new report released today concludes that the facts simply don't support the Bonneville Power Administration's choice of dam energy over wind energy policies this spring - under the rationale of “protecting salmon".

Turns out salmon still like water.   

In the report, analysts present biological data showing that Columbia and Snake River salmon populations were largely unharmed by this spring’s unusually high water and dissolved gas levels. The Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) chose to shut-off Northwest wind power projects’ access to the power grid over nearly two months.  The report concludes BPA’s policy did little to nothing to protect salmon. Wind energy companies have since filed a lawsuit against the BPA

Nicole Cordan, SOS’ Legal and Policy Director, “We suspected it was inaccurate for BPA to use salmon as its scapegoat to shut off wind power this year.  Now the actual biological data confirms that we were right and that the great majority of migrating salmon did okay despite the large amount of spill over the dams.”

In conditions of high flows, dams can cause a condition called gas bubble trauma (GBT) in migrating salmon when large volumes of water spill over them.  But less than one-tenth of one percent of salmon examined this spring and summer at the federal dams exhibited symptoms of severe gas bubble trauma and only slightly more than one percent of salmon showed any signs of trauma at all.  Check out the graph below, showing the percentage of cases of all fish affected by GBT (in red): 

The report has three major findings: 1) that BPA’s policy did not appreciably help salmon;  2) that Oregon’s total dissolved gas standard is better for salmon than the Washington standard BPA currently uses; and 3) that migrating salmon benefitted from high flows and increased spill while suffering little harm from increased gas levels.

Friday, September 16, 2011

On hand at Elwha

“It’s an exciting time to be a dam buster.”

Those were some of the opening remarks from Patagonia CEO and activist-legend Yvon Chouinard in his keynote address at a two-day science symposium on research and monitoring activities for the Elwha River dam removal project.

And he’s right. Never before has there been a more exciting moment for river restoration and salmon recovery. The removal of two dams on the Elwha River commences tomorrow, Saturday 17th, on the Olympic Peninsula. The project is the largest dam removal project in the world, ever.  Background on the Elwha Project here.

Yvon Chouinard

The free event was packed with hundreds of scientists, conservationists, and local business leaders in attendance. Representatives of the Olympic National Park Service, Washington Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, and the Army Corps of Engineers were in attendance.

Matt Stoecker of Stoecker Ecological gave a brief presentation about his work to improve fisheries habitat in Southern California following a short film about his important work."The Elwha," he said, "is just the beginning."

Sam Mace, SOS’ Inland Northwest Project Director also spoke following a screening of the Patagonia film “Freedom to Roam.” Sam spoke about the importance of the Elwha project to other river restoration projects around the country including on the Lower Snake River. She thanked officials for working in collaboration to come up a with solution and pointed out that this is exactly the kind of collaboration and leadership now needed to save endangered salmon and steelhead in the Columbia and Snake River basins.

James Waddell from the Army Corps of Engineers and Sam Mace of Save Our Wild Salmon

Dylan Tomine, a Patagonia Flyfishing Ambassador, spoke briefly about the value of letting the Elwha River heal and restore the wild fisheries it once boasted. 

Yvon’s presentation addressed Patagonia’s early beginnings in building a company dedicated to the environment, addressing the fact that our water use and purchasing habits all have an impact. Purchasing sustainable wild fish is important, and to improve the situation, dam removal projects must continue. Patagonia cites dam removal as the “Holy Grail” of conservation, and they mean it.  As Mr. Chouinard said regarding dam removal, “we are on a roll!”

The event concluded with a special Q&A session were several conference attendees took the opportunity to publicly thank Mr. Chouinard for his dedication, and to all of those who helped make Elwha dam removal possible and continue to fight for river restoration elsewhere.

Special thanks to the Olympic National Park Service, the Elwha Research Consortium, Stoecker Ecological and Patagonia for a truly inspiring evening in the midst of this momentous occasion.  

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Elwha Project: Lessons for the Lower Snake River

Historic dam removal project sets important precedence for other rivers

By Pat Ford - Executive Director, Save our Wild Salmon

This Saturday, on September 17th, America celebrates a national achievement on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State:  removal of the two Elwha River dams. This is the largest dam removal project in the world, ever.  The Glines Canyon dam on the Elwha at 210 feet marks the highest dam ever removed as well.  Learn more about the Elwha project.

An exciting new video was released this week about the Elwha project by Andy Maser courtesy of American Rivers and American Whitewater:

Year of the River: Episode 1 from Andy Maser on Vimeo.

Elwha River restoration will restore one of the west coast’s legendary salmon rivers, which once produced five separate salmon species, including Chinook salmon up to 50 pounds (by some accounts, even up to 100 pounds).  It will restore a cultural and economic heritage for the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, a vital food source for Puget Sound’s endangered orca whales, and a world-class scenic and recreational attraction.  River restoration is also creating hundreds of jobs, with more to come as salmon recover.  And, after years of conflict, restoration is occurring collaboratively, via agreements that provide replacement power for local businesses and additional community benefits.  Credit for this runs from local people, to Washington elected leaders, all the way to the White House and Congress. And the rewards will flow as widely.

The restoration has another dimension at well:  it will teach us scientific, engineering, economic, and community lessons we can apply to other rivers.  Every river is different, and therefore every river restoration proposal must be judged on its individual merits. The Elwha project is applying lessons from earlier dam removals, and similar learning will come from it.

Our coalition’s fishing, business and conservation groups support restoring the lower Snake River a few hundred miles east of the Elwha.  The Elwha project will offer lessons for the lower Snake River in many areas, but I’ll note three of importance -- salmon response, economic impact, and collaboration:

  • Wild salmon have responded quickly and positively to every major dam removal done so far on a salmon river; quick adaptability is in their DNA.  The Elwha will provide the best lessons yet in how fast various species respond.  This is important for the lower Snake, where five species of salmon and steelhead will be affected.
  • Local economic benefit to Tribal and non-Tribal communities was not a primary motivator behind the Elwha campaign, but it has become a critical and closely watched feature of the project.  While the rural areas around the lower Snake have different dynamics from the communities near the Elwha, the importance of jobs is just as critical.  
  • After much conflict over two decades, the Elwha project finally came together due to collaborations in which all parties got something important to their future.  No doubt a collaborative process for the lower Snake will look very different, but the same principles can be applied for the farmers, fishermen, energy users, communities, and businesses involved.

The recent U.S. District Court verdict found the government’s Columbia and Snake River salmon plan illegal for the third straight time.  It ordered a new and full evaluation of restoring the Lower Snake River by removing its four dams.  That official evaluation should apply relevant lessons from the Elwha.  But more important is the people’s evaluation – people on the west coast, and across America – that will occur at the same time.  We are confident people will apply the lessons and spirit of the Elwha achievement to the Snake River.